“Thou shalt not steal.”
While the Eighth Commandment seems very direct and clear – “Thou shalt not steal” – the definition of stealing appears to be a rather murky one for some. Young people who would be shocked at hearing that an acquaintance robbed a bank, or took money from a friend’s wallet, may see no problem with shoplifting from a store, cheating on an important test (because everyone else is doing it), or manipulating someone into destructive behavior, such as drinking or drugs, that goes against their better instincts.
This is one commandment that depends a great deal upon the example set for children by their family members or adults they observe on a regular basis. If a parent uses manipulation to get what he or she wants from a spouse, or a sibling bullies and uses other violent tactics to successfully intimidate others, then a young child may grow up to use these same methods.
You may be wondering what that kind of behavior has to do with “stealing.” If you have come directly to this page, you might wish to read the full essay on the Eighth Commandment for background. Each of the Ten Commandments addresses more than the literal, obvious meaning, and the Eighth Commandment is no different. If we think of stealing as merely the attempt to rob another of some object, it is time to take a deeper look at its meaning, if you wish to live the spirit of this rule of God.
Most children are taught not to steal as one of their very early lessons. This usually consists in learning that it is wrong to take things that do not belong to them without permission. And if this lesson takes hold that is a major victory! But as they mature, children could benefit from learning what other actions might be considered stealing, so they can protect themselves and others from breaking the spirit of the Eighth Commandment.
In addition to some of the points made in the essay on this Commandment, here are a few ideas suitable for discussion with individual children or Sunday School classes.
FOR LITTLE KIDS
1. Simply ask your young pupils if it is right to take a toy from someone without permission. They will probably repeat what their parents have taught them. Ask them why it would be wrong. If they do not understand, do some role-playing. Give them the words to use to ask to use or borrow something belonging to a classmate or sibling. Then, ask them how they would feel if someone took something special that belonged to them and refused to return it, and so on. Remind them of the Golden Rule, if they have already learned about it.
2. Explain to them that God has a big rule: “Thou shalt not steal.” It is found in Exodus 20 and is one of the Ten Commandments. Ask if they might know why this would be an important rule.
3. Explain difference between stealing on purpose and accidentally taking something thoughtlessly. Remind them that if they get permission from the rightful owner first, then that is not stealing.
4. Discuss ways that young children often try to get things that they want: by nagging, or sweet talking insincerely, bullying, trickery, or taking something secretly and hoping no one will notice. All of these actions are unloving, and break the Eighth Commandment.
5. Turn their thought to the positive side of this Commandment – to WHY we do not need to steal. Show them Genesis 1:31 in the Bible: “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” God has only good planned for each of His children and no one is left out. We may have different things and different opportunities come our way. We can turn to God in prayer if we have a need, and learn to trust Him with our lives.
6. No one can steal from us what God gives. He gives spiritual ideas and qualities, and no one can take those from us. Ask if anyone can steal our “sense of humor,” for example. Why not? Does a playmate seem to be having a lot of fun playing with a certain toy that belongs to him? Would we be happy if we secretly stole that toy and took it home? No. Why not? Would we steal the playmate’s happiness if we took the toy, or does that quality come from God? Yes, we might make them sad, and we do not want to do that, but if they knew how to turn to God, they would see that God gives all spiritual good, and it cannot be taken from them. We can know that for ourselves, too, so that we would not be tempted to steal from another.
FOR OLDER KIDS
Older children and Sunday School pupils should be able to understand the ideas given in the essay on The Eighth Commandment. But there are certain situations that may be of greater temptation for those entering their teen years that should be discussed. For example:
Shoplifting and “borrowing” clothes: While most kids understand that shoplifting is wrong, there is a feeling that taking items from a store or company without paying does no harm to individuals, and therefore is not so bad. But they need to understand how this ends up costing them and consumers more money because of the losses to the store and the costs of insurance, which are passed along to shoppers. Therefore, it is stealing from the wallets of innocent, hard-working people. Also, there is a habit, not just with teens, of buying fancy clothes (often Prom or Homecoming dresses), wearing them once for the big occasion, and then returning them to the store. Explain that this, too, is stealing, because the dress then becomes “used,” and everyone loses money on it. Bring in the Golden Rule. Perhaps one day they will be shop owners, and would they want others stealing from them in this way? These store losses can affect the profits which are needed to raise families, and so on. The honest thing to do is to buy only what you can afford, and take responsibility for what is purchased, returning only what is truly defective. Explain that shoplifting is not a harmless game. It can land them in jail.
Cheating on Tests: Yes, this is stealing. By cheating on tests, students steal from others, their teachers, their school, and themselves. They deprive everyone of an honest assessment of whether or not the subject has been successfully taught and successfully learned. In some situations, students can be robbed of their rightful spot near the top of the class, by others who have cheated. Competition for college admissions does create a lot of stress for high school students, and there is a great temptation for them to do whatever is necessary to make good grades, but if they do not earn those high grades through honest methods, then they have certainly broken the Eighth Commandment. There are spiritual consequences to this that may not concern them now, but for those who love God and want see the benefits of obeying Him, there is a sense of peace for those who have honestly earned their grades.
Addictive behavior: Indulging in destructive habits such as smoking, drinking, drugs, or overeating is a form of stealing. These appetites can rob both mind and body of good health and proper development – spiritually and physically. Though Christian Science teaches that matter is only a false concept of the substance of Spirit, as long as we are human we do need to respect our bodies by taking common-sense care of them. Why give the poor body more than it can handle naturally? It breaks the Eighth Commandment when we steal this good health from ourselves, or encourage our friends to indulge with us.
Stealing friends: At a certain age, young people get very possessive about their friends. There can be a lot of manipulation among groups of friends to get best buddies or to exclude others from the clique. While friends cannot really be stolen, in the usual sense of that word, attempts to alienate the affections of one friend for another could be considered a form of stealing. True friendship and love is not personally possessive, and inspires confidence that friends can congregate and relate naturally, with no need to control others. Learning this discipline while young can prevent much heartache when romantic companionship become the coveted prize.
Stealing good reputations: It is also a form of stealing when one attempts to rob others of their good reputation by spreading gossip and falsehoods for whatever reason. This kind of character assassination is strongly rebuked in the Bible. And young people should know that in the adult world, slander is against the law, and there are serious consequences for spreading falsehoods about another. As always, the Golden Rule should be considered when tempted to control others through gossip or intimidation. This will be discussed again under the Ninth Commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” But malicious gossip can also be seen as a form of stealing.
Those are just a few of the areas of possible discussion with your children or Sunday School class. When other Commandments are broken, there may not be a social consequence. But many forms of stealing are against the law, and young people need to develop the discipline and instincts that will protect them from making destructive choices in the face of temptation.
For additional ideas for daily lessons, see the page for The Ten Commandments. This will take you to the pages for First Lessons in Christian Science, Volume 1: The Ten Commandments. Scroll down through the links to the lessons on the Eighth Commandment.
Copyright 2009 Vicki Jones Cole